Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Much-Loved Family Dollhouse from 1820

Sunday, November 29, 2015
Isabella reporting,

Years ago when my daughter was younger, my husband and I conspired to make the ultimate (at least that year!) Christmas present for her: a big wooden dollhouse with a swinging door across the front, wallpaper in every room and clapboarding on the outside, a shingled roof, and a chimney covered with tiny bricks. We had a blast making it, but from Christmas morning onward we realized the house would become a never-ending work in progress, with my daughter frequently "redecorating" with new furnishings, rugs, tiny pets, and even the occasional new doll-resident. Although she's outgrown the house now, it still occupies a place of pride in our living room, waiting until one day she'll take it to share with her own children.

That's probably why I am so drawn to this doll house, right, in the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg. The house was originally made for a pair of twin sisters from a prosperous Philadelphia family, Elizabeth Clifford Morris Canby (1813-1892) and Sarah Wistar Morris (1813-1826)), and was given to them some time around their seventh birthday in 1820. It remained in the family for over 150 years, until it was finally given to Colonial Williamsburg in the 1981. The numerous generations of girls that played with it are reflected in its somewhat unwieldy name: the Morris-Canby-Rumford Dollhouse.

Although this dollhouse is far from the most lavish in the CW collection, it was clearly cherished and clearly played with, and the rooms reflect changing tastes and styles as well as those of the young owners. While some of the furnishing are original, there were additions made all the way through the mid-20thc.

But my favorite addition to this dollhouse was made by Samuel Canby Rumford (1876-1950), grandson of original owner Elizabeth. While he made several pieces of miniature furniture for the house in the 1930s, the most impressive is the the tall chest-on-chest in the corner of the bedroom, above left.

Crafted from the thin wood of a cigar box, the chest is something of a double family heirloom: it's a tiny version of a full-sized mahogany chest-on-chest that had descended in the family since the 18thc. That original chest, left, was the work of celebrated cabinet-maker Thomas Affleck in 1775 as a wedding gift from father to daughter. It, too, was acquired by Colonial Williamsburg from the family, and it now stands (quite wonderfully) in the next gallery from the dollhouse with the miniature replica.

Upper left: Detail, Bedroom, Morris-Canby-Rumford Dollhouse, 1820, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Photograph ©2015 Susan Holloway Scott.
Right: Morris-Canby-Rumford Dollhouse, 1820, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Photograph courtesy Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
Lower left: Chest-on-Chest, by Thomas Affleck, Philadelphia, 1775, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Photograph ©2015 Susan Holloway Scott.


Sarah said...

Are the dolls original? I didn't think that the white porcelain dolls were that early, the one on the bed is identical to one I have [only in better condition] which family provenance dates to around 1870 at the latest.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Sarah ~ No, I'm sure the china-headed dolls are later additions. They look 1880s or so to me. More recent members of the doll family come to visit...:)

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